I could not believe what I had just heard. Momentarily stunned, I sat in the pew mulling over what had just happened. How could an elder of the church say that during the guest welcome? While the words spoken may have been applauded by a select few and dismissed without thought by some, others in the congregation were very offended. If I had been a visitor (not a member), I would have left and never returned to that particular church. Though only two sentences long, the elder implied our local church was guilty of perpetuating prejudice because we had not used the sanctity of the pulpit to celebrate a secular holiday near and dear to his heart. In no way did the accusation glorify Christ nor promote the principles of equality found within the Bible (Galatians 3:28).
It deeply saddens me that this particular occurrence is not an isolated incident. Throughout the centuries and across the world, the pulpit has been misused to further personal agendas, as a platform for social or political ideologies, and to intentionally instigate disunity among God’s people. Sometimes those who are called to lead in the worship services place themselves above glorifying the Lord. “For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.” But “he who glories, let him glory in the Lord. For not he who commends himself is approved, but whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:12,17-18).
The offenses are not confined to the sermons preached, but everyone, from pastors, elders, deacons, deaconesses, lay people, to guest speakers who participate in the platform duties on Sabbath, could potentially be tempted to use the opportunity of standing before the congregation to slip in their own opinions and agendas. In Philippians 1:15-17, we are warned: “Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” (Emphasis added)
Acts chapter 4 recounts how Peter and John were taken before the religious leaders in Jerusalem for preaching about the resurrection of Christ; their accusers commanded them to never speak of nor teach in the name of Jesus. “But Peter and John answered and said to them, Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). This example demonstrates to us that those called by the Lord to be leaders among His people have a grave responsibility to do so according to the principles laid out by the Lord. Our actions, deeds, and motivations will be judged more strictly than others (James 3:1). Therefore, we need to carefully guard all parts of the service: the welcome, the offering, the children’s story, the prayers, the sermon, the benediction, and even the transitions into the congregational songs.
During a worship service, the believers enter into consecrated time with the Almighty, our Creator and Redeemer. This holy time is dedicated to the praise of our Lord, to uplift Christ, and to edify His people. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church Manual, on page 112, states:
The purpose of all services and meetings is to worship God for His creative work and for the benefits of His salvation; to understand His Word, His teachings, and His purposes; to fellowship in faith and love; to witness about our personal faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice at the cross; and to learn how to fulfill the gospel commission of making disciples in all the world (Matt. 28:19, 20).
One of the most fundamental purposes of such a gathering of God’s children is to learn from the Divine Word of God. “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). The Church Manual clearly upholds the Biblical standard and condemns personal agendas. “[T]he pulpit must be reserved for the preaching of the truths of the Divine Word and the presentation of denominational plans and policies for the advancement of the work of God, not personal views and opinions” (116).
When positions that place individuals in leadership roles are misused for selfish motivations, disunity among God’s people is the result. Disunity is not from the Lord but is a deadly tactic of the enemy to prevent the local churches from being effective missionaries to our communities. Ultimately, disunity among God’s people prevents the life-saving Gospel message from reaching those seeking the Lord. We must not give in to the enemy’s sly schemes. The apostle Paul issued a grave warning: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:7).
In addition to being cautious of the snares laid by the enemy, we are to be a united witness for Christ to our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors, communities, and the world: “It is important that we maintain ‘the unity of the faith’ (Eph. 4:13), and just as important that we seek to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”(verse 3). Such unity requires caution and counsel with church leadership” (114-115).
Let us never forget that we are the children of God, called for a unique purpose. We have the responsibility to stand boldly for Christ and to teach the pure Word of God:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
If asked to participate in a worship service, no matter how large or small the part, we should always go to the Lord in humble prayer, asking for self to be purged from our hearts and minds and for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, that the words we speak may not be our own, but His, in harmony with the Scriptures. Individual church members are also responsible for holding our local leaders accountable. If someone misuses the platform to further personal agendas or push errant doctrines or proclaim worldly ideology, we should take our concerns first to the Lord in prayer and then to the church leadership so that it may be reviewed and dealt with as needed.
If each of us consecrated ourselves wholly to the Lord and obeyed His Word in our lives, these types of issues would never even arise among our congregations. Let us first safeguard our hearts and minds in Christ, and then our services and meetings will also be protected from the wiles of the devil and the infiltration of personal agendas that obscure the love of God. Brothers and sisters, let us fix our eyes upon the atoning sacrifice of Christ, contemplate His triumph over sin and death through His resurrection, and share with our communities the blessed hope we have in His soon return.